SPOKANE, WA - Just like during the regular season, it appears that the only constant from this year's Americans/Spokane playoff series is going to continue to be unpredictability.
Mitch Holmberg scored twice in the first period, Jared Cowen chipped in four assists and the #2 Spokane Chiefs (5-1-1, 10 pts) bounced back to thump the #3 Tri-City Americans (5-1-0, 10 pts) 6-3 in Game 2 of their Western Conference Semi-Finals series in front of 5,026 fans at Veterans Memorial Arena. With the win, the Chiefs avoided losing back-to-back games for the first time since early February and evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece. Meanwhile, Tri-City saw their eight-game winning streak come to end as the series now shifts to Kennewick for Games 3, 4 and 5.
Unlike Game 1, where they fell behind by two in the first period, Spokane jumped on top first on Sunday. Less than six minutes into the period, Mitch Holmberg fired a shot out of the left corner that glanced off the catching arm of Drew Owsley and into the net.
But, with 4:44 left in the period, Kruise Reddick broke out Mason Wilgosh, who took off into the Spokane zone. Wilgosh then dished a pass to the trailer, Jordan Messier, who buried his third goal of the playoffs and second in as many nights.
But, two costly Tri-City penalties just four seconds apart, gave the potent Spokane power play a 5-on-3 advantage. And, with one minute remaining in the first period, Holmberg connected on a cross-ice feed from Tyler Johnson, as the Chiefs took a 2-1 lead into the first break.
After outshooting the Americans 13 to 5 in the first period, the Chiefs opened it up even further in the second, outchancing Tri-City by a 13 to 3 margin. In the process, Spokane tacked on three more goals in the period, breaking the game open.
At the 8:48 mark of the period, Blake Gal's clearing pass caromed off the glass at center ice and through the Tri-City defense, where Matt Marantz corralled the loose puck. From there, Marantz flicked a wrist shot over Owsley's blocker for his first goal of the post-season. Then, just 25 seconds later, and back on the power play, Levko Koper banged in a Brendan Kichton rebound during a scramble in front of the Tri-City net. Finally, with 5:08 remaining in the second, Davis Vandane's shot was tipped by Steven Kuhn, who dropped the puck behind Owsley for a 5-1 Chiefs lead headed into the final period.
To start the third period, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller opted to switch netminders, giving 15-year-old rookie Eric Comrie his first taste of WHL action. The move also seemed to spark the Americans, which connected just 3:40 into the final period of play. After a slick pass by Patrick Holland, Justin Feser connected on his fourth goal in five games, pulling Tri-City back to within three.
But, at the midway point of the period, and on another 5-on-3 power play, Johnson picked up his first goal of the series, beating Comrie to the near post. However, it would be the lone blemish on an otherwise solid effort for Comrie in his WHL debut, who finished with 13 saves on 14 shots in relief.
Meanwhile, with less than a minute remaining, and on the power play, Brendan Shinnimin rounded out the scoring following a redirect of Reddick's shot from the point.
Reid, who picked up 12 saves on 15 shots faced, earned his fifth win of the post-season. On the other end, Owsley was tagged with his first loss of the playoffs, allowing five goals on 26 shots in 40 minutes of work. Tri-City finished the night 1-for-4 on the power play, while Spokane went 3-for-5 on the man-advantage.
Both teams will get a much needed day of rest on Monday before resuming the series with Game 3 on Tuesday, April 12. Game time is 7:05 p.m. at the Toyota Center. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster outlets, including online at ticketmaster.com, the Toyota Center box office, or all Fred Meyer outlets. The game will also be broadcast live on NewsTalk 870 AM starting with the Sterling Savings Bank Warm-up Show at 6:45 p.m.
Applebee's 3 Stars:
1, Mitch Holmberg, Spokane
2, Jared Cowen, Spokane
3, Tyler Johnson, Spokane